From April 18-23 dozens of faithful trekked the 5th annual Pascua Florida Pilgrimage: 6 days, 110 miles through forest, beach, and canoe.
This excursion began at the SSPX St. Thomas More Church in Sanford to St. Augustine, Florida, home of the shrine of Nombre de Dios (Name of God) with the miraculous statue of Our Lady of La Leche. Hiking through semi-tropical forests, canoeing down rivers, walking along the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, camping along the way, the pilgrims made a public profession on this journey of their Catholic Faith and of their love for our Lord Jesus Christ. Over two dozen pilgrims set out from Sanford on the first day of the pilgrimage. By the expedition’s end the ranks of the pilgrims had grown to more than twice that number.
“The idea for the pilgrimage came when I was in St. Augustine, when we opened the priory in 2010,” said Fr. Marc Vernoy, prior of St. Thomas More Chapel and former District Superior for Africa. He continued:
In 2013 we started the first pilgrimage with this formula of 1/3 canoeing and 2/3 walking from Sanford – where one priest and two acolytes were martyred – to St. Augustine, where the first permanent Mass was celebrated in this country. In St. Augustine we also have the beautiful sanctuary of Our Lady of La Leche, especially for pregnant women, or women who have difficulties in their pregnancies, or women who would like to be mothers.”
The Rich History of St. Augustine and Nombre de Dios
In April of 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon planted the first cross in the sand near modern-day St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565 – half a century before the New England pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock – Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded the town of St. Augustine and Nombre de Dios mission. On the same date, Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales held high the cross and celebrated the first parish Mass.
Our Lady of La Leche in Nombre de Dios
With the founding of Nombre de Dios, an extensive missionary effort was initiated throughout Spanish La Florida. Two hundred years before the first Spanish mission in California, Nombre de Dios and over 140 missions stretched from St. Augustine south to the Florida Keys, north to the Chesapeake Bay, and west to Pensacola. The Spanish settlers established the first shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in this land under the title Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto – “Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery.” The chapel and beautiful statue are dedicated to motherhood.
In the 2017 photo gallery, you can see the magificent, towering cross erected at the same spot.
Why this Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a public profession of our Catholic Faith. A pilgrimage is not a vacation but a time to focus on spiritual life. Daily Mass, spiritual reflection, penance, prayer, meditation, intercession, thanksgiving, communal prayer and fellowship are a few of the spiritual goals. Fr. Vernoy marvelled at the correlation between this seeminly simple walk and its greater symbolism of our vocation:
This is a beautiful pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a reminder of our vocation on earth. A human being on this earth is a pilgrim to get to heaven. If you want to obtain the end, you need to approach it with generosity and pains and effort.”
Fr. Vernoy reflected on the objective and history of this pilrimage:
The main objective of this pilgrimage is to show the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in this world. There are many things on this pilgrimage that shows this presence in Florida. First with the discovery in 1513 when Ponce de Leon arrived not far from St. Augustine. And it is the first time Christian people entered North America with the intention to convert. We cannot understand anything if we do not know our own roots, and the roots of the Catholic people in this country are here in Florida.”
Personal Stories of Grace and Catholic Rediscovery
One pilgrim from Alabama was rediscovering his roots. At age 73, he completed the entire journey, and he was recognized as Pilgrim of the Year by his fellow walkers.
This has been a joyful experience with a very welcoming group. So much of what Catholics know today is the Novus Ordo, and that is such a different sense and feel from the Latin Mass and the old prayers and even the way you think about your religion. This has been an extremely broadening experience. I was an altar boy when I was young, but I went away from the Church and have been on a kind of pilgrimage ever since. When I came back to everything a few years ago, I didn’t recognize what was going on. I’m glad I found the Society of St. Pius X. This is closest to what I remember the Church was like in the 50s.”
Fr. Vernoy spoke about the great graces available during this pilgrimage:
I think there are many graces from this pilgrimage – not only for the people here, but for people who are asking for graces. A lot of prayers have been granted. We have several great graces of mothers who could not conceive who just after this pilgrimage conceived. This is the most visible grace, after the grace of the many deep conversions."
Two pilgrims from California were one such couple:
Bp. Fellay suggested we make the pilgrimage because we have had a hard time conceiving. He told me many stories of miracles happening after the pilgrimage. And Florida is beautiful – it has great weather, great nature, and the community is awesome. I am enjoying this.”
Pilgrims in the Florida wilderness
Human beings are pilgrims on earth, and a pilgrim is more than a traveler. Different from a wanderer whose steps have no established final goal, a pilgrim always has a destination, which is the encounter with God through Christ in whom all our aspirations find their fulfillment. As a pilgrim, you leave your comfortable daily routine and begin to walk and to orient yourself inwardly in relation to God. Move your body to free your mind to find God in His simplicity and yourself, far from the vain preoccupations of every day!
St. Thomas More Priory
St. Thomas More Priory in Sanford services 6 other Florida churches in the areas of Orlando, Miami, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Destin.
Join the 2018 Pascua Florida Pilgrimage
To inquire 2021 Pascua Florida pilgrimage, contact us at this email.